A comforting dish like sweet potato casserole has been on my mind since I saw gorgeous sweet potatoes at the local market recently. I never saw sweet potatoes until I came to the US where they are a staple on many holiday tables – not that you don’t know that! Thanksgiving pops into my mind immediately when I think of them like a mental bridge to a beautiful, festive table setting with abundant food and somewhere in the middle you’ll find sweet potato dish. Just thinking about Thanksgiving puts a smile on my face.
(Sweet potatoes or yams?)
Sweet Potato Farming
I learned from my farmers that sweet potatoes are a bit tricky to grow: they’re not resistant to frost or draught and are not tolerant to water logging and also require good aeration in terms of storage since they develop tuber rot rather quickly. On the other side sweet potatoes grow in poor soils with little or no fertilizers. The fast growing vine inhibits weed growth since it covers the soil - it shades out weeds – so it barely needs weeding.
How Sweet Those Nutrients!
Besides being fleshy and having a pretty orange color sweet potatoes are rich in complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, beta carotene which is a key antioxidant, vitamin A, C, B6 and various minerals such as iron and calcium. Let’s face it sweet potatoes are rated excellent among the world’s healthiest foods since they’re plentiful available in many different parts of the world.
(cooking, steaming, mashing)
(toasted nuts, spices - all mixed together)
Sweet potatoes are simple to cook and are naturally delicious, ready-to serve. Just a pinch of this and a sprinkle of that and they are ready to be devoured.
Baked Sweet Potato Casserole with Mozzarella
(recipe yields four side-sized portions)
1 cup walnuts
1 branch rosemary, about 5-inches long
3 lb sweet potatoes
½ cup Kosher-style salt
Sea salt, to taste
Fresh black pepper grindings, to taste
2 pinch cinnamon powder
½ nutmeg, freshly grated
4 ounces or 6 thin slices of locally produced Mozzarella
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Sprinkle walnuts into a baking pan then toast in oven for 8 minutes or until browned.
3. Strip leaves of rosemary stem then cut finely.
4. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of salt over bottom of a baking pan then put sweet potatoes on top. Cover pan with aluminum foil tightly then cook in hot oven for 1 h 30 minutes or until soft when pierced with a small knife.
5. Cool potatoes for ten minutes then peel and put into a large bowl and add walnuts, sea salt, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg and rosemary then mash and stir with a fork.
6. Transfer sweet potato mixture into an ovenproof baking dish then put cheese on top. Bake casserole for five minutes and serve immediately.
Chef’s Tip: Try different nuts in the sweet potato recipe such as hazelnuts or for a special treat pecans.
Did You Know
The true yam is an entirely separate species of vegetables that grows only in the tropics - so NO a sweet potato is not a yam. Sweet potatoes belong to the morning glory family and true yams belong to the Dioscoreaceae family – whatever that means.